Fantasy Golf Picks: Sony Open Strategy & Sleepers
The Sony Open
Defending Champ: Jimmy Walker
Now that the warmup tournament is finished, the Sony Open is the first full-field event of the 2015 season. Unfortunately, since the trek to Hawaii can be rather tedious, it’s not exactly what we’d call a strong collection of golfers teeing off at Waialae. Many of the bigger names - Jimmy Walker, Matt Kuchar, Jason Day, Russell Henley, Hideki Matsuyama, Brendon Todd - are just holdovers from the Tournament of Champions. And really, they’re only considered “bigger names” because the Sony Open features a dearth of top end talent; the true elite have elected to continue resting up on the mainland. However, there are some notables descending on Oahu commencing their 2015 season: Luke Donald, Webb Simpson, Ryan Palmer, Graham DeLaet, Gary Woodland, Charles Howell III and JOHN DALY!!!!!!!!! Again, just mentioning these players as “notables” speaks to the quality of the field.
Sony Open: DFS Values & Betting Guide
Sony Open Key Stats
- Par 4 Birdies or Better
- GIR Percentage: 75-125
- Iron Proximity: 175-200 Yards
- Putting: 10’-15’
The major difference between the Tournament of Champions and the Sony Open is the scorecard, although, it’s not in the way you’d expect. As anyone who's ever owned an N64 knows, Waialae plays only 7,044 yards compared to the daunting (on paper) 7,411 yards of Kapalua, but the shift from a Par 73 to a Par 70 places more of an emphasis on Par 4 birdies. It’s not difficult to score at Waialae, it’s just that the approach is slightly altered: Players MUST make birdies on the Par 4s. Most view Par 5s as scoring holes, which is an incredibly astute observation, problem is, there’s only two on the course. And when you combine that with four Par 3s, the advantage long bombers gain off the tee for the lengthier holes will be mitigated if their iron game is even slightly off. Fortunately, overall Par 3 scoring doesn’t need to be a factor, as every Par 3 on the course is rather similar: All four measure between 175-205 yards (No. 4, 204; No. 7, 176; No. 11, 194; No. 17, 194).
Don’t get it twisted, players don’t need to play the Par 3s at -5, they just need to break even. If they can refrain from gagging stokes away on the shorter holes, it will make scoring on the Par 5s a contributing factor to victory. With the winning score likely falling between -15 and -17, which has been the case six of the last eight years, any player finishing T10 will need those “free” Par 5 birdies (or eagles! OR ALBATROSSES!!!!!) to be impactful on their final scorecard.
Beyond the key stats, more than almost any other event on Tour, the Sony Open has a trend of seeing the same names on the leaderboard every year, so course history is extremely important this week. When elite talent almost uniformly crosses an event off their schedule, the next tier of players (the ones that play the Sony Open) have a chance to develop consistency at the course year-after-year.
Sony Open: DFS Values & Betting Guide
Also, this the first opportunity we’ll have to gather intel on the 2015 rookie class against more formidable competition. While he doesn’t crack my standard Fantasy roster, Tony Finau will be littered across my daily lineups. Finau is too risky to take with all value being equal, but when a salary cap is introduced, he’s going to be a terrific low-cost gamble. In five swing-season events, the rook churned out four T15s, vaulting from No. 215 in the world golf rankings to No. 144. Yes, Finau has been less than sharp from the key iron distance (183rd in proximity from 175-200 yards), yet his knack for scoring on Par 4s should balance that out; he’s first in total birdies, fifth in birdie average, ninth in Par 4 Birdies or Better and 17th in Strokes Gained: Total.
Sony Open Picks
Ryan Palmer & Harris English - Once again, the Yahoo! A-List is devoid of respectable alternatives. The best bet: grabbing as much high end consistency as possible. Ryan Palmer has produced quality results at Waialae in the past (T8 2014; 1st 2010) and has been one of the safest Fantasy picks on Tour for about 12 months, and in a full-field event, we actually have to worry about the cut. Well, we don’t if we roster Palmer. He’s made 24 of his last 26 cuts and ended 2014 playing superb golf: T22, T8, T14, 7th, T4. It’s strange, but Harris English’s post-Masters stagnation makes him a far more attractive Fantasy option than usual. A quick search of his recent results reveals less than stellar showings: Past 19 events, one T10, 10 missed cuts. How does this help, you ask? It means everyone is going to be avoiding him. Not me, I’ll be going full contrarian on this one. English has reeled off two consecutive T10s at the Sony Open (4th 2014; T9 2013) and despite struggles in limited rounds during the swing-season, he ranked seventh in 175-200 yard proximity and sixth in Par 3 Birdies or Better in 2014. I’ll trust the much larger sample of 26 events over a measly 12 rounds in the months after the real season has already concluded.
Marc Leishman & Charles Howell III - Sometimes loading up on overlooked names with excellent track records is essential. Marc Leishman has been so good at the Sony Open over years that I’m willing to ignore the ridiculous soft ‘c’ in his given name. Toughen up your act and get a "k" next time, PAL!!! The Aussie has notched T10s the last two years, and hasn’t finished worse than T22 in any of his past five starts in Honolulu. Charles Howell III, he’s been even better. CH3’s a Waialae warrior: 13 starts, 13 consecutive cuts and nine T10s. Including a T8 or better four of the last six seasons.
Jimmy Walker & Chris Kirk - Although strong outings at the Tournament of Champions haven’t historically predicted success the following week, the top level performance from defending Sony Open champ Jimmy Walker makes him a must-play. Plus, JIMMAYYYYYYY already has the Waialae blueprint down. In his 2014 triumph, Walker played the Par 3s at even par and went -7 on the Par 5s. It helped he was top ranked golfer on Tour in Par 3 Birdie or Better and fifth in birdie conversion rate. I had planned on fading 2014 runner up Chris Kirk, but an insane Monday at Kapalua quelled my worries. From the key iron range this season (175-200 yards) Kirk ranks 11th in GIR-percentage and fourth in proximity. If he can continue generating scoring chances from that distance while maintaining his elite putting (5th 2015; 22nd 2014), Kirk should have little difficulty producing a third straight T5 finish.
Brian Stuard & Tim Clark - As the 2013 champion, on the heels of a quality outing, I really want to lean Russell Henley. But I can’t do it. Generally, I don’t like to oppose the safest pick on the board, that’d be foolish. However, there are enough safe selections to construct my squad for maximum point value on my competition. If I take Henley, it means I can’t pick Brian Stuard and Tim Clark, and I want them... BOTH!!! There will be plenty of opportunities to use Henley in the future; it’s unlikely I’ll ever be plugging Stuard in my lineup the rest of the season. This is his tournament, though. In three career Waialae starts, Stuard has compiled a 5th, T6 and T25. The success has been derived through a blend of accuracy off the tee, mid-range putting and scoring ability on Par 3s and 4s (T50 in all four categories in 2014). In a stronger event, there are simply better players who possess these skills; in the weak Sony field, not so much. Clark is basically the older Stuard. In 2014, he finished second in driving accuracy, 14th in Par 3 Birdies or Better and 17th in proximity on approaches inside 200 yards. As always with Clark, his fate will be decided by the flat stick, which runs incredible hot and cold. I’ll side with his familiarly on these greens, though. He withdrew last year because of injury, but posted back-to-back runner up results in his two starts previous.
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